Friday, September 4, 2020
Chronicle of Higher Education, Will Covid-19 Revive Faculty Power?:
Across the country, faculty members are campaigning to be meaningfully heard by the powers that be at their institutions — big and small, elite and open access. They’re laying the bricks of new structures of faculty and staff governance after decades of erosion. In some ways, the pandemic has become this “great leveler,” says Jennifer Fredette, an associate professor of political science at Ohio University. Tenured professors are feeling the insecurity that contingent faculty members have long experienced. A raw deal has reached their doorstep, she says, and they’re now saying, “Nobody deserves this.”
Fredette finds this renewed interest in faculty organizing — especially that it’s happening across the country — energizing. But, she’s quick to add, it’s difficult work.
The pandemic, with the financial pummeling that accompanies it, is a mighty force, perhaps impossible to combat. By the beginning of July, more than 51,000 higher-education employees had already been furloughed, laid off, or had their contracts not renewed, according to Chronicle reporting. Some boards and presidents have acted unilaterally, with little incentive not to. Decades of adjunctification have already thinned the ranks of full-time college instructors and weakened the collective power of the teaching staff — perhaps past a point of no return.
Still, says Fredette, this movement is bigger than one institution. It feels impossible to go backward. “I don’t know how you put the genie back in the bottle.”